Auction Post Mortem for Saturday 6/8/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Saturday 6/8/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

As I was superimposing the sounds of my own farts over flowery video footage of a stunning antique mourning lithograph dedicated to the memory of a 27-year old woman who died on Halloween in 1827, I considered that I may be opening myself up to criticism. I had the same consideration when, the week before, I did the same with a beautiful - and expensive - Victorian hair wreath. These items, after all, contain physical remains, and in some cases, are somberly dedicated to the memory of, actual people who lived, breathed, and died. So I considered that the irreverent act of joining these sacred relics with audio of my flatulence may be interpreted as disrespectful to the memory of the departed, and may offend and upset some people. In my considerations I concluded that while I don't know much about the people that left these items behind - the color of their hair, certainly, and other details, sure - I know for certain one fact: they thought farts were funny. I'd wager that its one of the few universal truths of human kind. Since we started audibly shooting air out of our butts, we've been laughing about it. And I am sure that the people that left these items behind - and everyone that loved them in life and in death, and everyone who has come since - had a good laugh over a nice, noisy toot.

All that said, apologies to anyone who was offended.

My faux-haunting, fart-punchline videos - the first one of which is sitting at 115k plays, and 1926 likes, and the second one at 11.8k plays and 587 likes - haven't been my only successes in getting some attention on Instagram this week, after weeks of poor performance. When I was in Madison Bouckville Antique Market in New York State last weekend, I came across a very sweet little fold-out valentine, the final fold of which revealed a freaky four eyed girl. As soon as I saw it, I figured I knew it was the kind of thing that had the potential to get some attention online, and that whatever price I had to pay to get it, was going to be well worth it. Turns out, that price was just $2; and, turns out, my instincts were right. That reel on Insta is sitting at 219k plays, and an insane 24.9k likes. But the real number I have been keeping my eye on all week is how many of those 219k viewers and 24.9k likers actually followed me - that would be 130. And what I further wondered is, would those 130 actually turn out to bid on the item that generated all that engagement. The answer: no, pretty much not at all. I did have a small up-tick on registrations on MHV.live this week, but my signed-in auction viewership was actually down by 5 viewers. And when the item came up across the block, I opened it with the max of the $25 absentee bid I had, and waited for the bidding frenzy to begin... and not a single competing bid came in. I mean sure, its a little piece of paper, so how much do I really expect it to go for, but I figured with the virality of the video, there might be an unusual result. My impression, then, is that lots of interest, views, likes, follows, and other social media engagement does not necessarily convert to paying business. I'm yammering on now, but I just think its an interesting case study for anyone that runs a business off of social media. All that said, I did have a number of new bidders tonight, and who knows how they came into the fold. Anyways, I'll give this the first flop of the night, not because I think its worth anymore than the $25 it brought, but because I honestly expected it to bring something stupid, like $100 plus.

Flop: Topps Chewing Gum 1968 Fold-Out Four Eyed Valentine, Illustrated by Wally Wood; Purchased #2, Sold $25

Topps Chewing Gum 1968 Fold-Out Four Eyed Valentine, Illustrated by Wally Wood

Now remember - a flop is not a complaint - I'll take a $25 sale on a $2 purchase every single day of the week! And the bonus is that my buddy Robert of @toysinmyhouse, the one to correctly ID the maker and artist - is the one that took it home. I am very happy about that!

Now getting back to Madison Bouckville: I had considered getting up early Friday morning after last week's auction and making the 4.5 hour drive from Southwest NH to mid-state NY, but decided it would make more sense to sleep in, get my shipping done Friday, and get a good night's sleep so I could be fresh and ready to go at 4am Saturday morning. That's the move I made. I left the house at 4:30am, and pulled in the driveway at 10:30pm that night... an 18 hour day that left me utterly beat... but not too beat to wake up (later than usual) at 6am Sunday morning to hit the fleas. By the time the weekend was over, I had almost entirely drained both my business checking account and my personal checking account, because there was so much stuff I wanted to buy. My philosophy is that if there's cool inventory you can buy at a good price, you should buy it all regardless of any notion of a budget you might have walked in with.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here - back to Bouckville. This show is not quite on the scale of Brimfield, and is a little more spread out, but I thought the quality of the inventory was totally on-par, if not better. I also found the prices to be considerably easier to stomach. Unlike Brimfield, at which early selling before sunrise on Tuesday is legally prohibited by the town, many sellers sell to each other, and to early bird buyers, before opening day at Bouckville. So I was a little concerned getting there on Saturday, after dealers have been trading for one, two, or more days, that the good stuff would be all dried up and scuttled off. In fact, I was quite surprised at how many goodies remained for me to pick from.

When I wrapped up my shopping at the market around lunch time, I headed up a couple towns over to grab some New York pizza, which was a delicious reprieve from the chronic pizza mediocrity of my home state.

Then I found my way back to Route 20, which would carry me another 80 or so miles on the ride home. But shortly after I hit 20, I saw a roadside yard sale with a white tent next to a small out building, and I saw a crappy little woodcut pumpkin hanging out in the tent. I almost never stop at yard sales - and I am sure hardcore yardsalers reading this, if any are, are thinking "good asshole, leave the finds for us." But I have personally found that the stuff I want isn't usually at yard sales. But of course, I know, I am definitely missing stuff by skipping them. And in fact, had I skipped this yard sale, I would have missed out on a whole shit ton of stuff - good, choice merch that I would buy any day of the week. The tent had some stuff from one dude selling, and then the out building was a beautifully laid out oddities shop - not cluttered, everything tastefully displayed, easy to see - from another dude, who apparently is a bit of a business man, one of those businesses being clean outs and demos. I wheeled and dealed with the two guys for a while - its a little tough to bundle a ton of stuff when you're buying from two separate people, because there is less incentive for one dude to lower the price of his merch so I buy more from his buddy, and vice versa. But they were super easy to negotiate with - the dude in the outbuilding more-so, and I walked away with a ton of stuff.

A couple of the items that I really hemmed and hawed over were a couple of gravestone fragments he had outside the small building. There were actually a whole bunch of them there - he got them from a clean out he had done of a local monument manufacturer, and even showed me the sign he salvaged from the building - which I didn't have the foresight to snap a photo of. The other stone I was interested in, he explained, had been turned up by his father-in-law when plowing his field. Still, even with the stories to back these up, I  had some really pissed off people last time I had a gravestone for sale. I mean, I'm not really sure why I had people coming at me that time - like I got the thing at the flea market, I didn't fucking steal it from the graveyard, and the guy I got it from does clean-outs, and told me his client said it was never used.  I just feel like I was far enough removed from whatever its origin was to indemnify me from people being pissed. But they were. So now that gravestone is sitting on the floor in my living room... forever I guess, I dunno. Its no more on top of a grave than it would have been if I had sold it. Anyways, back to these present grave stones.. Let's start a new paragraph, this one is getting long.

Little disclaimer here: I am going to be talking about race a little bit. I'm a white dude who benefits from just about every systemic privilege imaginable, so maybe I honestly shouldn't, but if I say anything stupid, or inadvertently problematic, chock it up to my inexperience, ignorance, and whatever else, and drop a line in the comments with an education. I dunno, trying my best here.

In this business, you have to make a lot of decisions about the kind of merchandise you want to sell, and sometimes that means making not-always-black-and-white ethical decisions. I think it was probably in my first few months of business as a retail store in Somerville, I was shopping at Todd Farm Flea Market in Rowley, MA (this blog post is going to be long as shit, and we're already one disclaimer deep, are any of you still reading?), and I came across this pair of salt and pepper shakers that were prettttty racist caricatures of a black man and woman. I had seen all kinds of dealers buying and selling this kind of thing, and there was a certain whimsy to them that kind of tickled me, and so I thought, "hey what's the harm, I'll buy them." They were damaged, so they were $7. Fast forward maybe a few days later, and they're sitting on my shelf in the store, and I had a couple black shoppers browsing, and they observed the salt and pepper shakers, and my memory is a little fuzzy, but I think maybe they muttered, maybe chuckled a little bit, to themselves over them. But I just felt sick to my stomach. Like I was embarrassed. What business do I as a white seller have with those on my shelf, and what am I communicating to my customers of color about how I see them with those on display? They didn't say anything, and I am in no position to imagine if they felt any way about the experience, but I know I didn't feel good. When they left, I pulled them from the shelf, and tucked them away in a drawer, where they remained for a great while, my own tell-tale-heart of my racial insensitivity, inexperience, and ignorance.

Some time later, a couple of girls came in - one white and one black - and the white girl called to her black friend that she "found it." She gestured to a 1960s Juro brand "Lester" ventriloquist dummy - an unassuming plastic dummy very similar in style and appearance to the Charlie McCarthy version by the same manufacturer, but black. The girls explained that they look to find the "at least one racist thing in every antique store," and posited that this dummy was that thing. Now I think its worth pointing out, that this dummy didn't have exaggerated or caricatured features that its white counterparts didn't have. I think there is a danger of mistaking representation for racism - according to the "Virtual Black Doll Museum", a blog that catalogues the history of black dolls, founded by a woman of color, this Lester doll was inspired by black ventriloquist Willie Tyler's similar dummy of the same name. Now I am not privy to the entire history of the manufacture of this doll, so I am sure somewhere along the line, there was some systemic racism happening, how could there not be? Its probable that Juro was owned by white dudes, capitalizing on the success of a black artist. Okay, got it. But that's not really my point here. Anyways...

One of the women explained to me that as person of color, she likes to collect these racist relics. At this point in my career, I don't think I had even heard the term "Black Americana" yet, and that term is probably a whole other can of worms. Anyways, I relayed the story of the salt and pepper shakers hiding over in the drawer that had been haunting and taunting me for months. I offered them to her at my cost of $7, and that just kind of felt icky to me, so after yammering for a bit, I handed them off to her for free. Since then, any time that stuff has ended up in my hands (sometimes you get stuff you don't want in box lots... and the sheet music... ohhhh boy the sheet music), I've handed it off to friends of color for their collections, and that's been my way of dealing with it. All that said, I won't lie - occasionally there's a bit of folk art, or maybe a valentine or postcard, or whatever, that is offensively caricatured, but does have that sense of whimsy that I love in antiques, and I feel the temptation to pick it up, but ultimately, not my place, not my thing.

Aside from the fact that I don't want to, I would get absolutely annihilated if I posted "black americana" to my Instagram feed. Holy shit, people would eat me alive. But somehow, there is an active community of white buyers and sellers - many who are associates - who somehow are trading in this shit with enthusiasm and impunity on Facebook... but Facebook live auctions are like a whole other animal. It's a whole other world over there. Okay, I am getting off topic. In fact, I am waaaay off topic, this should have been its own blog post, and I haven't even talked about the Nazi shit yet...

Let me just re-center a bit about my thesis here: in this business you have to personally make calls about what you are comfortable buying and selling. Okay let me get back to running my  yap:

I go to an auction regularly that has a seemingly unending supply of consigned Nazi... I'll just call it Nazi shit, I really feel like its the best term. I guess I am generally of the belief that if you collect Nazi shit... you're probably a Nazi, or at least a sympathizer... or at least a little Nazcurious. But there's an argument to be made for it. Lots of folks collect World War Two stuff and general militaria - if you're going to collect World War Two stuff, naturally you're going to have Nazi relics in your collection. Most likely, you'll have other relics of the other members of the Axis powers as well (they call the WWII-era Japanese flags "meatball" flags which always gives me a chuckle). Also, how did this Nazi shit get to the States? Many of these items were taken as war trophies by US troops and brought back with them when they returned. case in point: I once bought the cut out swastika portion of a Nazi flag that had been captured shortly after the war's end in  May 1945, and signed by soldiers of the US Army Counterintelligence Corp, or CIC. That was a moment when I made a personal judgement about what I was comfortable with when buying and selling sensitive items. Likewise, I once bought a collection of wartime letters from within Nazi Germany, I believe sent between a German soldier and his sweetheart. I am a dealer of ephemera and correspondence, and that grouping falls within my wheelhouse, and I would have bought them all the same had they been from any other country. Still, these items were tucked, mostly out of site, in my display case, not displayed out in my store. But unless an item related to Nazi Germany has some obvious provenance related to one of my areas of interest, I am not going to deal in Nazi shit just to capitalize on the intrigue. And once again, if I posted a Nazi item to my Instagram feed, I would get murdered in the comments. That's not why I don't do it, but again, I think its interesting that this stuff is freely traded on Facebook lives and in groups without anyone batting an eyelash, the kicker of it being that most of it is fake to boot. Why would you want a fake item with a Nazi swastika on it? Of what historical import is that?

Its all coming out now... I'm just going to keep writing...

A few days ago on a Facebook group someone posted an Oyster can, and holy shit this was the most racist thing I have ever seen, right from the name of the Oyster brand, which even repeating here would probably get me de-platformed, right down to the graphics. The poster was looking for info and a buyer, and said "please don't delete me from the group!" (Before I go any further, its worth noting that one dude who I know to be pretty knowledgeable in the world of advertising pointed out that this Oyster [why do I keep capitalizing Oyster?] can was a fake novelty item from the 70s or so, but anyway.) One (white) commenter defended the item saying, "It's history! I think it's awesome!" And that's what they always say - It's history! Dude, just because something is history doesn't mean its awesome, are you fucking insane? There are parts of history that we should be ashamed of - and no, I don't believe we should try to hide those parts of history, no I don't agree with the people that say that these relics of racism and hatred and genocide should be thrown in the trash or burned - but that doesn't mean that it's awesome, and that it belongs in every collection. The other thing is that if you're white, its not your history. Why do you as a white dude want to own a fake-ass Oyster can with a racial slur and an insanely offensive caricature of a black person? Why are you as a white dude asking to be tagged in the Facebook live when the insane 1980s black-face inflatable pool floaty toy goes up?

Getting back to my thesis: in this business you have to personally make calls about what you are comfortable buying and selling. So I'll just add on to that and say this: some of you are feeling a little too comfy.

Okay this has been a wild tangent. Let's slowly work our way back to where we started: gravestones.

Okay so bones.

I said slowly - we'll get back to the gravestones.

Bones. A bit over a year ago I was at the weekly winter antique show, and there was a dude there I don't see very often unloading stuff and he had a huge crowd around him. And boom I see it: two zip-lock bags full of human bones sitting on the table. I shouted out to him for a price, and he said "Sold, sorry." And I watched a guy I knew pay him, I think it was, $200 bucks for the bones. Holy shit, I was in a panic that I missed them. I pulled the guy aside, tried to buy them off him, hoping he'd like a quick flip, failed, and then tried again later in the market, and ultimately bought the bags of bones for $500. (And then made an insanely awkward faux pas of telling the original seller that I bought them for more from the guy he sold them too... after I had been specifically asked not to do so. But I totally panicked. Oh god it was so awful, I am still cringing. Anyway).

I was pumped. I had only had a couple of skulls and bones pass through my hands, and I know this stuff is so, so, so hot in the oddities world. And I mean, its bones, skulls... cool?! I got to work off-loading some of it, posting some to Insta, saving some for the auction, etc etc etc. I lotted up a whole bunch of the little teeny bones into glass apothecary jars and sold them as lots, and sold other bigger bones individually or in groups, so on and so fourth. After the live sale that week, a customer I care about and respect (and who hasn't bought with me in a while, and who I miss) expressed some concern about the manner I was selling these bones, the fact that I was selling them period, and some skepticism that they were all in fact human. We had a good long talk, and it really got me to thinking, though not quite enough to get me to change my desire to deal in bones and human remains. And not enough to convince me that not all of the bones (some of which were unmistakably human) in these zip lock bags were in fact human.

In the midst of all this I had sold a human finger off my Insta feed. Someone had made some weird comment about a goat, and I was like... huh... wtf? Fast forward a few months later and the customer that bought the finger informed me that she had found out that it was in fact... a goat toe. Dude, this thing looked so much like a finger, never in a million years did I think it could be a goat toe... but it was. I quickly apologized for the mistake, refunded the full purchase price, and the customer had herself a free... goat toe. Similarly, a customer who had bought a whole shit load of long bones - for a very, very friendly price - informed me that a couple were not, in fact human. He still got a great deal, so he was happy, but I was starting to realize... I am not really qualified to deal in this stuff. I am making mistakes. I am miscatalogingthings. And on top of all of that was...

I felt icky. Skulls are cool. I have lost track of how many skulls I have tattooed on my body. Skulls are cool. But man, someone's brain was in that skull, and it was in a head, and it was on a body, and it was walking all over the place, and it loved, and it kissed, and, the whole deal. The whole gamut of life's experiences. And now I am trading it for cash so people can display it on their mantle.

That doesn't even touch on an issue that is so important in modern discourse but seems to get rationalized away so easily: consent. "Oh well it was a medical skeleton, it was deaccessioned from a medical school." Yaaa... but where did it originally come from. A lot of the earlier stuff did not come from willing participants. I'm not going to dive into researching it right now, but just going off things I've heard - feel free to correct me - a lot of it probably came from the far east, or prisoners, or other undesirables, so on and so forth. Not to mention the possibility that the remains being traded around could be of indigenous origin, in which case you are putting yourself in serious legal jeopardy, not to mention the moral/ethical conundrum. Okay, but what about the more contemporary stuff that was from someone who willingly donated their body to science. Science isn't sitting on some hipster's mantle (apologies for the phrasing, I am just teasing a little bit... okay I'm going to take this out of the parenthesis and say more). No judgements from me here. I am just spitballing about my personal thoughts and feelings, and I'll offer more qualifications to these statements shortly. But ya, go back in time and ask the person who willingly donated their body to science if they intended, or consented to, have their skull be traded on Facebook and Instagram when the institution was through with it. I bet the answer is no. And we can't know, so that should be enough. And, to go back to my own example, if there's a right way to do it, buying a couple zip-loc couple bags of mixed bones at flea market is definitely not it. Those could have come from anywhere dude.

This is becoming less like a blog and more like a journal. Honestly, skip to the bottom if you just want to see price results from the auction.

Okay, so I knew this is how I felt about this all along the way. Every skull I bought and sold, I felt this way. But... they're so cool... And I want to be cool... And I want to be known for having cool stuff. Yeah, even after everything I have been yammering about here... I still think skulls are cool. I still like all of your Instagram posts, and love the cool ways you style them and the moody lighting and seeing skulls held by cool people with cool tattoos. I dig it.

So we have two ingredients building toward a change - 1) I am not educated enough in this area to be a responsible and informed dealer, and 2) I'm icked out by the ethical conundrum.

And then there was all the stuff in the news. I'm not going to say shit about that. Just not gonna get into it.

But these were the three things that made me make the decision to publicly join others - Freeman and Fugate Oddities was way ahead of the curve on this one - in saying: I do not sell human remains. (Other than hair art, and maybe a relic or whatever but that's a whole other thing). And so that's my policy and it has been for a year so and it will continue to be. I don't deal in human remains, or bones.

The other day at the flea market a very cool dude who always has choice stuff said "Oh boy do I have something for you..." And I said "Please tell me its not another skull" (I had bought one from him years ago). It was... It was missing the cap and the jaw... But it was only $150 fucking dollars. Oh boy was the little devil on my shoulder tempting me to scoop it up and sell it under the radar at 300% profit... But instead I passed the lead off to a friend. And so it goes.

So I left the bones world, and I think that world is better without me in it - let people like Cole, and Jon, and the more handsome, successful Ryan, and so on, who have an encyclopedic knowledge of osteology and a reverence for its history, and all that other good stuff lead the way. They know what they're doing.

And what about the Nazi shit and the so-called Black Americana? Last I heard there's at least one museum that specialized in racist material culture that's at capacity and no longer accepting donations. Well, I don't know about all that either. So I just don't deal in the stuff, and if some of it gets into my hands, I try to get it into the right hands.

Okay, back to my thesis: in this business you have to personally make calls about what you are comfortable buying and selling. Gravestones. I decided: I am comfortable selling gravetsones. I am not removing them from gravesites, I am, to the best of my ability, verifying that they were not removed from gravesites by the people I am buying them from, or by the people they got them from. If my little chain of custody has a liar, or a tall tale within it, well that is going to rot their soul. And if any of these were improperly removed from a grave, I'm at least X degrees separated from it, and I will literally never know, and I am not preventing them from getting back there, and if I do find out where they belong, I'll get them returned. I am talking as if I am going to make a habit of buying every gravestone I see. I'm not, I'm just kind of laying out the rules I have set for myself in my determination about what I am comfortable buying and selling.

So I am comfortable with this item, and my hope is that if people aren't comfortable buying it... they won't. And that will be the end of it. No insults, no judgements, no call-outs. In a world when people are buying and selling people parts, and photos of dead babies, and so on and so fourth, I don't think this is outlandish.

Its worth noting that I did ask people for feedback on the listings for the gravestones last week. The only person that expressed concern was someone who suggested that the gravestone found in the field could have marked the grave of a family member in a time when bodies of deceased children were sometimes hastily buried on the property, and not in a cemetery, and that the fact that it wasn't in a cemetery or around other graves doesn't necessarily mean it didn't mark the site of remains. This is valuable insight, and I thanked her for it. Notably, she's not someone who has ever bought from me, but I still appreciated the feedback.

Okay, I think that's enough on that. Umm... what else.

That was Bouckville.

As of Saturday, I am officially a graduate of the Missouri Auction School - the country's oldest auction school, which was founded in 1905. This was a step I wanted to take toward getting my auctioneer's license in the state of New Hampshire. Conducting auctions online only, as I do, does not require licensure, but its something I want so people know that my operation is legit, and to open up new opportunities in the business in the future. Would I like to own, or partner on, my own in-person auction house some day? Maybe! Or work other people's auctions? Could be!

The most surprising thing about the 80+ hour course was learning about the huge variety of auctions that exist - everything from livestock auctions, to heavy equipment auctions, to government auctions (auctioning off drug dealers planes and Maseratis, are you serious?!). It was interesting being in a class with an incredibly diverse (thought not racially - I think it was pretty uniform in that regard) array of industry professionals. There were people in my course that work for auction houses, or themselves as auctioneers, that have sold single items worth more than my total sales for the year. I mean, some of them have sold single items that are worth more than my total revenue from everything I have ever sold - 10s of thousands of items - in my 8 years as an antiques dealer. So ya, there's more money out there if I want it and I have the ambition to go find it...

But for now I am pretty happy in the lane I am in. I like the stuff I sell. I pretty much only sell stuff I like. And I guess that makes it all the more frustrating when I feel like I am not seeing my enthusiasm matched by the bids I am getting. If I don't say it enough, I am entirely grateful for every last penny that someone bids with me. Really, truly, deeply. Even when I lose money - it is my privilege to get "the coolest stuff" into the hands of "the coolest people," to quote my little catch phrase which I think is on the footer of this page.

I mean when I look at the big fat juicy number that tonight's auction (its 4:28 am as I write this, its hardly tonight anymore) brought, it feels a little silly to feel like, "eh that didn't go very well." But then I think about that 18 hour trip to New York, and all the gas, and all the food, and all the other expenses incurred, and the day away from my girl and my dog... And then getting up early the next morning and driving from market to market when all I want to do is sleep because my body is exhausted. Then spending all week advertising the stuff, while I am cramming for my auction class, and trying to get seen, and trying to drum up interest. Anyways, this is my job, and these are all aspects of it. But some weeks, more than others, you feel that your pay was commensurate with your efforts, and this just, eh, kinda wasn't one of those weeks.

There was a time when I subscribed to the philosophy of my old-timer friends at Broadcove Auctions back in Hingham, Mass (RIP Scott - I miss you man, and if I have any success as an auctioneer, its because I learned from watching you) that you don't buy anything unless you can triple your money, or better. That is to say for every dollar you spend, you make two dollars in profit (I am a little fuzzy on if I have this math right so I asked ChatGPT... and it gave me the totally wrong answer... and I corrected it and it was like, "oh shit, you're right, I'm sorry.")

So having come from that philosophy, when I look at tonight's auction results, and see that for every dollar I spent purchasing an item, I only profited $0.80, yowch. It hurts a little to put all that effort in and to put together what I think is going to be a really blockbuster event, and not even double my money. So its with that insight in mind that I offer that, yeah, tonight's auction was a little disappointing. That said, it wasn't so bad that its left me financially vulnerable, or in a position where I can't buy the necessary inventory to keep up - and build on - the momentum for next week, and the week after that, and the week after that... and damn I am going to be doing this forever.

Okay, if you have been counting, that was a nearly 5900 word introduction all to get to: flops, floats, and flights. I am probably not going to proofread this before I go to bed, so if you read it before I do... sorry.

Okay:

Float: Hair Art Shadow Box

Consigned, Sold $230

Hair Art Shadow Box

I was really close to calling this a flop, but I am gonna hold off on going quite that far. Prices for hair art have kind of been all over the place the past few months or so. I saw a friend sell one of the best I have seen way under the money, and then watched the one I had last week, which was beautiful, but not quite of the same caliber, bring the same money. Then I had the one a few weeks back that had a mourning poem with it, something I thought would certainly bring on the enthusiasm, that sold for under $200. So given the kind of variation I have been seeing in this market, I guess I am not all that surprised that this brought just $230. That said, I think it is way better than that, and would have felt much happier if it had hit the three hundred mark. Additionally, I am fairly new to taking on consignment items - it's something that I have just started doing this year, in earnest - and I have a duty to my consignor to get the most money possible (something I learned in auction school). And of course, the other thing I learned in auction school is that the market dictates the price. So, I guess $230 is the price. I just would have liked to see it do a little better for my consignor.

The other thing that is a little discouraging is when you have something this nice, in a category that is so highly collectible, and the bid is at like $80... and only a couple people are bidding. I watch a lot of auctions on Facebook and elsewhere from oddities dealers of different varieties, and I see people just lobbing huge sums of money at these dealers for stuff that is either outright fake, or so dubiously embellished that it might as well be. And so when I have an item as beautiful as this one, and the bid is still low, I sometimes feel like that gif of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction looking around confused like "yo, where are my bidders?" Anyways.

Float: 19th Century Hand Colored Mourning Lithographs

Dated 1827, With Hair, Single Decedent; Purchased $100, Sold $305

Dated 1827, With Hair, Single Decedent

Dedicated to Three Decedents; Purchased $100, Sold $205

Dedicated to Three Decedents

The Mother's Grave; Purchased $100, Sold $100

The Mother's Grave

Maybe I am using this term completely wrong... but I think this is a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. We have three similar items of decreasing - I won't say quality, but interest. We did the best one - the one with the hair - first, and it brought the most. We did the second one, the one dedicated to three of the dearly departed, second, and it brought 2/3 what the first one brought. We did the least interesting one, the Mother's Grave one, last, and it brought the least, 1/3 of what the first one brought. This is kind of how I expected this to go, which is why I am giving this trio a flight - even though I technically lost a few bucks in expenses on that last one.

I think had these gone up on separate nights, they probably all would have brought around $200-$250. Okay actually, I just checked, and the last time I had the Mother's Grave litho, back in April, it brought exactly $100 then too. I guess maybe I should just stop buying that one, or sell it on the feed as BIN. Anyways, I think the point stands. Higher supply, lower price... or something like that. But ya, these were a winner.

I am hopeful that with these results, the guy I got them from will be encouraged to consign more of his collection to me. I bought these ones outright at a hundred a pop, and I think consignment could be a good route to go if I can secure some more. But we shall see! There may be more to come.

Float: Concord, NH Gulaka Sideshow Photo

Consigned, Sold $210

Concord, NH Gulaka Sideshow Photo

I think some people were surprised this brought so much, but I wasn't at all. I would say maybe it brought a little more than I expected, but I figured it would get to $150 easily, and hopefully go from there. $210 is a super strong result, but short of what I would call a flight. If I was a collector, I would totally buy a photo this cool for $210.

Float: Casket Plaques

Purchased Collection of 9 For $280, Total Gross When Sold Individually $380

Casket Plaques Purchased Collection of 9

I just realized that I forgot to write in the blog above the whole genesis of my "roadside sale" I conducted last Saturday on the way home from NY as part of my Bouckville adventure... but I'll just leave that for another day.

I originally offered this collection, still mounted to the wooden board I bought it on, as one lot for, I think, like $480. No takers, at that price, and I wasn't surprised, but a good hunk of that profit would have been eaten by shipping the four foot board.

So anyways, I pulled them off the board and we sold them individually. Normally if I only made $100 profit off a $280 buy, I might be pretty bummed. But I paid up for these, knowing that even at that price, losing money was unlikely. I do regularly see casket plaques sell for much more than the average price of these, but I think its pretty plain that in the world of casket plaques, this collection was not very exceptional. Most of them were plain, most of for fully grown adults, if not outright elderly folks, and condition was an issue on some. So, lower average price per each than typical, but to be expected. This $100 profit is a float all day long.

Float: Post Mortem Ambrotype with Family Photos

Purchased $300, Sold $400

Post Mortem Ambrotype with Family Photos

I was tempted to give this a flop, but before I made a fool of myself, I decided to look up sold prices of PM ambrotypes of this caliber on eBay, and found that where this landed is right around the market value. That said, with some of the back story of this item (the hidden ambrotype of the wife and all that), I thought maybe there would be a little more interest.

For those that didn't watch the auction, I opened the single ambrotype post mortem up at $25, and said that if bidding reached a secret number, the rest of the images of the Whaley family would become part of the lot. When bidding stopped at $300, I revealed the hidden number of $400 to make it all one lot, and my high bidder jumped his bid up to $400 to take it away! I am so happy he got it, and equally happy this collection is sticking together.

I bought this collection at Bouckville, and when I saw this ambrotype sitting in a display case on the second day of the show, after what I heard was a really busy first day, I figured it would be so expensive it would be out of reach. When I asked the dealer how much for the post mortem, he told me that if I wanted the photo, I'd have to buy the lot, and he wouldn't split them up. I saw that he had a price tag of $475 on the lot, but he told me he would take $350, bottom dollar. At that point I was thinking, hm, I'll probably buy this, but wanted to build myself a little more cushion, so I said "You wouldn't take $300?" And he said, "I would!" And he did, and I paid him, and here we are.

Anyways, I am really surprised no one could make a deal with this dude on the first day. Even at the $475 price for the lot, he wasn't out of his mind. Very happy with this purchase.

Okay, I'm gonna phone in the rest. And I just realized I never got around to talking about the antiquarian book show I went to last weekend and all the stress of decision paralysys when there are too many choices of things to buy... anyways...

Other Items of Note:

Float: Worn Photo of Graveside Flowers; Consigned, Sold $20

Float: Tintype in Case with Hair and Obituary; Consigned, Sold $45

Tintype in Case with Hair and Obituary

Float: Horn-made Pincushion with Dates; Purchased $40, Sold $70

Quick note here - I put that I purchased that horn for $40, but really I bundled it with a bunch of items from one dealer that I bought for $110. Fore the sake of brevity, I sometimes just estimate, or choose, a per-item price for some items bought in lots or bundles.

Horn-made Pincushion with Dates

Flop: FLT Odd Fellows Horseshoe; Purchased $25, Sold $25

Float: Bradley Knitwear Advertising; Purchased $15, Sold $32

Bradley Knitwear Advertising

Flop: Russian Tin-Litho Book Box; Purchased $15, Sold $15

Russian Tin-Litho Book Box

Float: J. Chein Co. Tin Litho Clown Bank; Purchased $20, Sold $30

Flop: Beware of Cats Plastic Novelty Sign; Purchased $5, Sold $7

Beware of Cats Plastic Novelty Sign

Flop: Star Nursing Bottle; Purchased $10, Sold $26

Float: Annals of Murder Book; Purchased $50, Sold $105

Annals of Murder Book

Float: Miniature Young's Night Thoughts Book, 1840; Purchased $20, Sold $40

Flop: Brattleboro Insane Asylum Print; Purchased $20 (And Framed Myself), Sold $35

I was really surprised this Insane Asylum print didn't generate more interest.

Float: Dick's Solitaire Book; Purchased $20, Sold $40 (BIN)

Dick's Solitaire Book

Flop: Foreign Fashion Print with Masked Figure in Black; Purchased $10, Sold $40

Foreign Fashion Print with Masked Figure in Black

Float: Friday the 13th Book; Purchased $10, Sold $22

Flop: Katawampus Book; Purchased $15, Sold $20 (BIN)

Float: Guide to the Wildflowers Book; Purchased $10, Sold $25 (BIN)

Float: Butt Snuffer Made in Japan Mug; Purchased $10, Sold $26

Butt Snuffer Made in Japan Mug

Flop: Lot of 17+ Tintypes; Purchased $20, Sold $30

Flop: Lot of 2 Red Devil Coal Bags; Purchased $10, Sold $25

Flop: Super Heavy Metal C. Grimm Die Press Block; Purchased $35, Sold $25

Ah damn, I really liked this thing, I kind of wish I kept it...

Float: Theodor Kittelsen "Har Dyrene Sjael?" Do Animals Have Souls? Chromolitho Folio; Purchased $15, Sold $50

Theodor Kittelsen "Har Dyrene Sjael?" Do Animals Have Souls? Chromolitho Folio

Float: Lot of Four Vintage "Weirdbook" Magazines; Purchased $15, Sold $40

Flop: Circus Poster "All New Acts" Printing Block; Purchased $20, Sold $25

Circus Poster "All New Acts" Printing Block

Flight: 1910 Dog Calendar Plate; Purchased $10, Sold $85

I think this is the sole flight of the post.

1910 Dog Calendar Plate

Float: Enamel IOOF Rebekah Medal on Rope Chain; Purchased $15, Sold $30

Float: Pyrography of Gibson Girl in Waves; Purchased $5, Sold $30

Float: 1930s Ten Thousand Public Enemies True Crime Book; Purchased $5, Sold $15

Float: Kewpie "Ding Busted" Print; Purchased $10, Sold $35

Kewpie "Ding Busted" Print

Flop: Pair of 1930s Health Knowledge Books with Fold Out Charts; Purchased $30, Sold $37

This is one flop I really didn't get. I mean I know there were condition issues... but damn. I have seen books like this that are absolutely shredded bring $200. Go figure.

Float: Random Mystery Ram Head Hooks; Purchased $5, Sold $30

Random Mystery Ram Head Hooks

Float: Pair Antique Grange Ribbons; Purchased $10, Sold $30

Float: Composition Monkey Puppet; Purchased $5, Sold $20

Float: Quaker Oats Frolie Grasshopper Circus Advertising Booklet; Purchased $20, Sold $50

Quaker Oats Frolie Grasshopper Circus Advertising Booklet

Flop: Cast Iron Good Luck Horseshoe; Purchased $20, Sold $25 (BIN)

Flop: Cape Cod Graverubbing in Frame; Purchased $20, Sold $60 (BIN)

I am giving this a flop just because, not long ago, grave rubbings were sooo hot with my audience, and it seems like everyone is just kind of... over them. Or maybe this one just wasn't that cool.

Cape Cod Graverubbing in Frame

Flop: Reincarnation Theosophy Poster, Framed; Purchased $20, Sold $50

Reincarnation Theosophy Poster

I just did a word count, not including this sentence... 7869 words. Okay, maybe I need to work on shortening these posts. See you next week! Stay free. -Ryan

Back to blog

4 comments

But goats don’t have toes!?🤔🤔🤔

Melanie Chaves

Really enjoyed your (very) thought-provoking 5900-word give-or-take dissertation on the state of all things important. & especially delighted to be the proud purchaser of the one solitary flight of the evening. If you flop as an auctioneer — which you’ve already skillfully mastered — I believe you have a future as a writer, no foolin’..! (BS can probably always use another publicist…)

Robin Lynne Russell

Appreciate your in depth thoughts on why you feel uncomfortable selling some things. In relation to bones, I agree skulls are cool! They just are! But I’ve been SO happy to see my detailed plastic (or maybe some kind of resin?) model I bought from you sitting on my shelf. I purchased another one at Brimfield in MA that looked like it had been painted to look more realistic with missing teeth and it’s just equally as cool. I think those pieces bring the macabre without the ethical issues. Thanks for the post Ryan, a good read :)

Jenny

I appreciate your consideration of the ethics component of this work! My full time gig is as a licensed therapist so I often find myself grappling with these ethical dilemmas too. Also damn!! I worked at the Brattleboro retreat and would have loved that piece!! That sold price is nuts!!

B7bevintagemenagerie

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.